Judge’s signature marks more than 16 years of sweeping foster care reform
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich Tuesday announced that after more than 16 years of system-wide reform and a massive turnaround, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is now free of federal court oversight.
U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw has approved the historic agreement between the state and Children’s Rights, the New York-based advocacy group that in 2000 filed litigation known as the Brian A. lawsuit that charged that Tennessee youth in foster care suffered in an overburdened system, describing children in crowded congregate care shelters and social workers with overwhelming caseloads.
Tennessee now has a thoroughly reformed foster care system. The reform comes after years of collaboration with Children’s Rights and the Technical Assistance Committee, a panel of nationally recognized child welfare experts that served as the federal court monitor for the Brian A. consent decree.
“This is monumental for Tennessee’s children and the state. After years of intervention, the federal government is saying that Tennessee is providing service to children in a way that models what it should look like for the rest of the country,” Haslam said.
“This stage in our journey represents the hard work, commitment and innovation it has taken to get here. So on behalf of our children, families, staff and partners, I can say that we’re just thrilled and thankful,” Hommrich said. “But the work goes on. We will always have tough problems before us. At DCS, we promise to bring our full energy and attention to whatever lies ahead, and we will use the same focus and dedication that has brought us to this point today.”
The reform follows intense work with a wide range of institutions, including Tennessee’s private provider network, the state’s leading universities, the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children, the state’s juvenile courts and the Tennessee General Assembly.
DCS achieved its court-required performance during 2015, and the Brian A. agreement stipulated that Tennessee maintain that performance throughout 2016.
Highlights of the department’s reform include:
- Among the nearly 140 foster-care benchmarks DCS achieved are measures of time to reunification, time to adoption, re-entry into the foster-care system, length of time in placement, parent-and-child visits and case-manager caseloads.
- DCS emphasizes family-style placement for youth in foster care, in place of institutional settings such as orphanages.
- DCS has become a national leader in timeliness to adoption and in implementing a child-and-family teaming model that encourages birth parents, case managers, care providers and foster families to work together on behalf of a child.
- DCS has developed a process that has put the department on a path to a more professional workforce, with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for case managers and supervisors.
- DCS has built a robust, modern case-management computer system, TFACTS, that handles everything from case notes, management tools to billing days. It replaced a patchwork of computer systems that did not always work together reliably.
- Although not a Brian A. requirement, DCS has achieved re-accreditation by the Council on Accreditation. Tennessee is one of the few states in the nation accomplish this.
- Tennessee is the first state in the U.S. to offer independent living services to 100 percent of the youth who age out of foster care. This program is an outgrowth of pioneering work with private provider Youth Villages.
Today there are approximately 7,300 children in Tennessee foster care. The department is also responsible for the approximately 1,100 youth who comprise the state’s juvenile-justice population. These youth were not part of the Brian A. suit.
For more information on the Brian A. lawsuit, please contact Rob Johnson at Rob.Johnson@tn.gov.